At 8:29 pm on Monday, December 21, SpaceX launched the Falcon 9 rocket carrying 11 commercial satellites for ORBCOMM (a leading global provider of Machine to Machine communications and Internet of Things solutions). It lifted off from SpaceX’s launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. This was the first rocket launching, since the loss of their last mission in late June. At first, the company’s ORBCOMM-2 mission looked much like many a similar satellite launch. Four minutes after launching, its first stage disconnected, and its second stage ignited, proceeding into orbit to deploy a series of 11 satellites for its customer.
At 8:39 p.m., just 10 minutes after blasting off into space (and reaching the velocity necessary to keep it there), the first stage of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket returned to successfully land back on Earth. This is history-making, something that has never been done before. The spacecraft landed vertically, after a trip into orbit on solid land at a designated spot. One should recognize that either Boeing nor Lockheed Martin (the two space giants that named themselves the “United Launch Alliance” 10 years ago) has done it, nor has NASA itself, or China or Russia, for that matter. Only SpaceX has attempted and successfully been able to land a rocket on a pinpoint of a target and keeping it upright. Previously this expensive hardware always ended up at the bottom of the Atlantic, thus only usable for a single flight. Landing on a minuscule target is a stunning achievement, considering the rocket’s speed and earth’s revolution, and can be seen as a huge boost for the space industry. Some consider it as large an achievement as the Apollo 11 mission, where Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the Moon.